Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Gore Effect Again & The Invention of Chimneys

The Gore Effect Again & The Invention of Chimneys

From the December 22, 2009 Guardian:
More than 100 people have been killed in the cold snap across Europe, with temperatures plummeting and snowfall causing chaos from Moscow to Milan.
In Poland, where temperatures have dropped to as low as -20C in some areas, police appealed for tip-offs about people spotted lying around outside. At least 42 people, most of them homeless, died over the weekend.
In Ukraine 27 people have frozen to death since the thermometer dropped last week. Authorities in Romania said 11 people had succumbed to the chill, and in the Czech Republic the toll was 12. In Germany, where temperatures have fallen to -33C in certain parts, at least seven people are known to have lost their lives in the freezing weather.
Roads were not exempt from the chaos. After a weekend that brought the heaviest snowfall in about 100 years, Moscow was gridlocked, with tailbacks snailing around the Russian capital.
In Italy, where winters are usually mild, motorways in the north-east were closed and the Ministry of Defence dispatched helicopters in Sicily to bring medical aid to those in need.
I'm reading Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror at the moment, and she mentions that the chimney was invented in the 11th century, and ascribes it to the cooling that presaged the Little Ice Age. I found that claim quite astonishing, so I did a little digging. She's overstated it, but not by much.

Sir William Smith's View of the State of Europe During the Middle Ages (1888) discusses that there is no evidence of chimneys in England "prior to the twelfth century." John E. Crowley's The Invention of Comfort (2003) reports that while chimneys were used in industrial applications in Roman times, they were not used for household heating. A hole in the roof was sufficiently efficient for that purpose. Various motivations are ascribed to this--but the obvious one is that it suddenly got very cold on a consistent basis in the twelfth century. This account from 1877 asserts:
The chimney for carrying off the smoke of a house is of modern invention. It was not introduced into England before the twelfth, and into Italy in the thirteenth century. Even in the seventeenth century throughout England the houses of the well-to-do yeomen were without chimneys.
Considering the role that Italian fashion played in the Renaissance--and generally the movement of culture and refinement northward--I'm inclined to think that Tuchman has it right: chimneys were a response to increased cold, making the traditional hole in the ceiling approach inadequate.

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